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Alt-Right Pseudoscience – Part 2: The Free Speech Union and Scientific Racism

Nafeez Ahmed reveals British commentator Toby Young’s defence of the Nazi-inspired Pioneer Fund and explores how discredited race science has been normalised under the guise of ’free speech’

Wickliffe Draper, founder of the Pioneer Fund. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

PART TWOAlt-Right Pseudoscience‘Free Speech’ & Scientific Racism

Nafeez Ahmed reveals British commentator Toby Young’s defence of the Nazi-inspired Pioneer Fund and explores how discredited race science has been normalised under the guise of ‘free speech’

In February 2020, the British commentator Toby Young established the Free Speech Union (FSU), ostensibly to protect the right to free speech in the workplace or public square.

But, as Byline Times exposed in part one of this investigation, one of the FSU’s first exercises in ‘free speech’ was fake speech through the operation of – a website that publishes a wealth of conspiratorial pseudoscientific disinformation around the COVID-19 pandemic. This disinformation has had a deleterious impact on mainstream conservative thinking about the Coronavirus, while encouraging the public to flout protective public health guidelines designed to keep people safe.

The FSU’s lurch into platforming fringe pseudoscience does not come out of the blue, however. Byline Times can exclusively reveal that the website is part of a wider ‘Alt-right’ lobby network which has invested considerable effort in normalising racist pseudoscience, platforming white identity politics and attacking the Black Lives Matter movement. 

Young is at the epicentre of this network.

Byline Times has unearthed a previously unreported speech by Young in which he defended the pseudoscientific research of the Pioneer Fund – a Nazi endowment in the US established just before the Second World War. This included defending the belief in a biological basis for “racial differences in IQ”, justifying the under-representation of women in science, technology and maths (STEM) subjects.

Insisting that such ideas… should be seen as a perfectly reasonable part of every day public discourse, the proponents of scientific racism are allowed to turn the tables and claim victimhood.

Yet Young’s apparent support for American scientific racists has been part and parcel of his connections to leading right-wing public figures in Britain – none of whom were willing to condemn Young’s views. 

Toby Young’s advisors at the FSU read like a veritable Who’s Who of white identity politics. They include IRA bombing apologist and former Brexit Party MEP Baroness Claire Fox, who has campaigned against banning tobacco advertising and child pornography, and in favour of Bosnian Serb ethnic cleansers, global warming, human cloning and freedom for corporations. There is also David Goodhart, the Policy Exchange think tank’s integration chief, who has spent the past decade defending what he calls “majority grievances”, appointed by Liz Truss as a Commissioner at the Equality and Human Rights Commission.

Other advisors include Matthew Goodwin, whose academic work has been accused of detoxifying the far-right; David Green of the think tank Civitas, who has spent his entire career claiming that institutional racism doesn’t exist (for instance in policing or the ethnic pay gap); Eric Kaufmann, a political scientist who supports “white racial self-interest” and denies structural racism; Lord Matt Ridley, the climate-denying Conservative coal baron who is keen to convince people that believing in a “biological basis for race” does not make you “racist”; author Lionel Shriver who complained about Penguin Random House’s proposed diversity programme; and historian David Starkey who declared that slavery could not be construed as genocidal because “so many damn blacks” had survived.

Their willingness to stand by Young’s involvement in dangerous COVID-19 disinformation and scientific racism points to the decline – and radicalisation – of British conservativism.

The Black Lives Matter Report 

Toby Young’s fellow company directors at the FSU include Douglas Murray, who until 2018 was associate director at the Henry Jackson Society (HJS).

The HJS is a Conservative lobby group with outsized influence on the Government’s counter-extremism strategy, and particularly on Boris Johnson’s policies on Brexit, foreign affairs and the civil service. It also has direct ties to Donald Trump’s former chief strategist Steve Bannon and is controlled by pro-Trump Republican donors.

In May 2018, Murray attended and spoke at a conference in Hungary hosted by a Hungarian Government think tank called Szazadveg, along with Bannon. While in Budapest, Murray and Bannon both met personally with Hungary’s anti-Semitic Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

Steven Bannon (second from left) and Douglas Murray (far right) with Hungarian President Viktor Orban (second right) in Budapest in May 2018. Photo: Intellinews

Also on Toby Young’s FSU board is Inaya Folarin Iman, founder and director of The Equiano Project, which aims to promote freedom of speech around race. Inaya Iman has worked closely with the HJS.

Iman contributed to a recent report published by the HJS in September, Black Lives Matter UK: An Anthology. Emphasising that its report authors are “from Britain’s black communities”, the HJS concluded that “hard-left identity politics – much of which is culturally imported from the USA – threatens to weaken domestic race relations and destabilise Britain’s multi-racial democracy”.

Esther Krakue, another contributor to the report, is a member of Turning Point UK, the British division of the conservative campus network Turning Point USA which has repeatedly hired anti-black racists and white nationalists. Krakue hosts her own show on Turning Point UK’s YouTube channel. In one episode, she conducted a gushing interview with Turning Point US founder Charlie Kirk, who has downplayed anti-black police violence, described the concept of white privilege as racist, and claimed that white conservatives rather than black people are the real victims of discrimination on campus. Turning Point UK’s founder is a pro-Trump QAnon conspiracy theorist and scientologist, John Mappin.  

Another report contributor, Calvin Robinson, is a former Conservative Party activist turned candidate for the Brexit Party. In Hartlepool, the seat contested by Brexit Party chair Richard Tice, Channel 4 undercover filming exposed what the broadcaster called “shocking racism and prejudice” including “slurs against Muslims, black people, Pakistanis and Turks”. Inaya Iman, too, was a Brexit Party candidate.

According to Hope Not Hate, Brexit Party figures have extensive direct connections with far-right extremists, white nationalists and anti-Semites, and repeatedly recruited white supremacist British National Party members. Robinson has most recently become strategy and policy advisor for the new Reclaim Party created by actor Laurence Fox, who boycotted Sainsbury’s for supporting Black History Month and criticised black actors (and working-class actors) for complaining about the lack of diversity in the entertainment industry. 

Another contributor is Katharine Birbalsingh, headteacher of a school in Wembley, who urged teachers and school authorities to ignore complaints from children about racist teachers: “If [a] child says [their] teacher is being racist, back the teacher. Whatever the child says, back the teacher. If you don’t, you are letting the child down and allowing them to play you for a fool.” 

FSU advisory council member Konstantin Kisin, a comedian who makes jokes about ‘woke’ culture, was also a contributor. Neither Kisin nor any of his fellow contributors appear to have any experience or expertise in campaigning against anti-black racism.

Toby Young and The Bell Curve Controversy

Apart from running, which seems to be little more than a front for his FSU, Young is an editor at Quillette.

Earlier in 2020, he interviewed the American political scientist Charles Murray on the Quillette podcast. Murray, a scholar at the neoconservative American Enterprise Institute, is the author of The Bell Curve which claimed that black people are largely less intelligent than white people due, not just to environmental factors, but to genetics. The book was widely derided for being “scientifically flawed” at the time and ever since.

Murray’s pseudoscience argues that black people, women, the poor and Latinos are overall genetically inferior, explaining the rise in inequality between racial groups. One passage in the book reads: “The professional consensus is that the United States has experienced dysgenic pressures throughout either most of the century (the optimists) or all of the century (the pessimists). Women of all races and ethnic groups follow this pattern in similar fashion. There is some evidence that blacks and Latinos are experiencing even more severe dysgenic pressures than whites, which could lead to further divergence between whites and other groups in future generations.”

Young’s fascination with what many see as scientific racism appears to be longstanding. In 2015, he advocated “progressive eugenics” in which poor parents would screen and abort low-IQ embryos (an idea entirely lacking in scientific merit). He would later attempt to disassociate from the notion that he is an eugenicist.

But in 2018, he notoriously attended the London Conference on Intelligence (LCI) at University College London, a “secret eugenics conference” organised by a white nationalist academic. One of the core organisers and regular attendees of the conference is Danish white nationalist eugenicist Emil Kirkegaard, who has been accused of Nazi sympathies and once attempted to justify child rape. Kirkegaard is a research fellow at the Ulster Institute for Social Research (UISR), whose members have been heavily involved in the conference – including its main organiser James Thompson. 

The UISR is bankrolled by the Pioneer Fund, an organisation listed as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Centre, founded by Nazi sympathisers with the purpose of promoting “racial betterment” and originally set-up to promote the “repatriation” of black Americans to Africa. Writing in the American Behavioural Scientist journal, Hampton University sociology professor Steven J. Rosenthal described the Pioneer Fund as a “Nazi endowment specialising in production of justifications for eugenics since 1937”.

A vast bulk of research relied on in The Bell Curve was financed by the Pioneer Fund.

The UISR’s journal, Mankind Quarterly, was co-founded by a leading member of Benito Mussolini’s eugenics task force and one of its former board members was Otmar von Verschuer. During Germany’s Nazi regime, Verschuer was director of the Institute for Genetic Biology and Racial Hygiene until 1942 when he became director of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute of Anthropology, Human Heredity and Eugenics in Berlin. Verschuer also taught and mentored Josef Mengele, the notorious Nazi SS officer known as the ‘Angel of Death’ for performing deadly experiments on prisoners at Auschwitz.  

Young had met the UISR’s Emil Kirkegaard previously when he spoke at a separate conference organised by the International Society for Intelligence Research (ISIR) in July 2017. While ISIR includes many distinguished scientists, the Pioneer Fund director Richard Lynn – who has called for the “phasing out” of the “populations of incompetent cultures” – was on the editorial board of ISIR’s journal Intelligence, along with another Pioneer Fund director, Gerhard Meisenberg. Both were removed from the journal only after the association was reported by the New Statesman magazine and the Guardian

Young’s Defence of Scientific Racism linked to Nazi Pioneer Fund

What has been unreported until now is Toby Young’s role at the ISIR event in 2017, where he delivered a presentation on the alleged liberal denial of the role of genetics in IQ – and inadvertently revealed the extent to which he and the ISIR are steeped in scientific racism.

Young justified Harvard president Larry Summers’ comments that led to his resignation in 2005, when he claimed that women were under-represented in STEM subjects because of greater variability in the cognitive abilities of men than women. While degrees of variability are recognised, the idea that this explains the marginalisation of women in certain fields of employment and education is overwhelmingly rejected in the scientific literature. 

Young then positively cited the work of white nationalist extremist Linda Gottfredson, who has been funded by the neo-Nazi Pioneer Fund to argue that racial inequality is the direct result of genetic racial differences in intelligence. 

“If those discussing the differences between men and women have to tread carefully, the same goes double for anyone foolish enough to raise the subject of racial differences in IQ,” said Young, before complaining that the University of Delaware had “refused to let [Gottfredson] and Jan Blits take up a grant to continue their research in 1990. It took her two-and-a-half years to get her funding reinstated”. 

Young was referring to the university’s effort to block the funding she was receiving from the Pioneer Fund. In addition to work such as Murray’s and Gottfredson, the Pioneer Fund’s current main grantee is the think tank American Renaissance which hosts neo-Nazi and Ku Klux Klan activists.

Young went on to defend the work of Charles Murray in The Bell Curve as a “measured discussion of the evidence” and apparently endorsing its central hypothesis that “a meritocratic society will eventually degenerate into a biological caste system”. Young also defended the work of Nicholas Wade, author of A Troubling Inheritance, which attempts to make the case for a biological basis for race. But population geneticist Jeremy Yoder points out: “Time and again, data that refutes his arguments is not only available and widely cited in the population genetics literature – it is often in the text of the papers listed in his endnotes.”

Young then attempted to argue that believing in genetically-determined racial differences on intelligence doesn’t make a person racist as long as they advocate for equal rights (carefully eliding the fact that many of those he defends do not): “You can believe that there are between-group IQ differences – you can even believe that these differences are 80% heritable – and still remain committed to equal rights.”

But he then went on to complain that those who reject “civil rights” are labelled as racists: “If you write a book making an argument against civil rights, or if it sounds as if you might be from just reading the blurb, then you are a racist.”  

Byline Times spoke to two leading experts about Young’s speech.

According to Professor Keith Baverstock, of the Department of Environmental and Biological Sciences at the University of East Finland, who has published widely in the peer-reviewed literature on the subject, “the underpinnings of Young’s arguments are extremely weak”. 

Clinical psychologist Dr Jay Joseph, author of The Gene Illusion and The Trouble with Twin Studies, told Byline Times that Young’s speech is “a fairly typical defence of scientific racism and he makes the extra point of trying to paint opponents to this position as Marxists and Stalinists of some type”. There is “no scientific merit” to this, he added, noting how “Young favourably cites hereditarians Cyril Burt and Hans Eysenck, both of whom have been unmasked as frauds” as well as Thomas J. Bouchard’s study of twins which “like previous ‘separated’ twin studies is pseudoscience”.

Joseph described the ISIR, where Young spoke, as “the home of openly hereditarian IQ people, including scientific racism and racial differences supporters. It is not that surprising to me that he gave his speech there… I would not say that these ideas are linked to Nazism only. They relate to things like eugenics, colonialism, neo-colonialism, and so on. These ideas were widespread in American and British academics and psychology long before the Nazis. It’s a great way to justify having a colonial empire, and so as always pseudoscience is used to justify political ends”.

Young has attempted to bring this nexus of fringe pseudoscience thinking directly into the FSU. His FSU advisory council includes Professor Robert Plomin, the distinguished geneticist. When Murray’s The Bell Curve was published, Plomin was a key signatory to a statement drafted by the Pioneer Fund defending the science behind the book, while failing to repudiate its racist conclusions.

Plomin has also published papers with the American Eugenics Society and spoken at several meetings of the British Eugenics Society (the latter rebranded itself as the Galton Institute in 1989) – both of which advocated racial science. And, of course, Plomin is heavily cited in Dominic Cummings’ infamous advisory briefing to Michael Gove claiming that genes play a bigger role in a child’s IQ than teaching. 

Another FSU advisory council member is Professor Timothy Bates, who was the ISIR president in 2017 and 2018 and introduced Young’s speech there – which he personally hosts on YouTube.

Quillette and the Human Biodiversity Movement 

Young is far from alone in this less-than-subtle revival of scientific racism. Quillette, where Young is an editor, spends much of its web space “repackaging discredited race science” according to The Nation, largely through publishing pseudoscientific articles by proponents of the so-called ‘Human Biodiversity Movement’ (HBD).

Professor Curtis Dozier of Vassar College describes HBD as a euphemism used to lend respectability to the pseudoscientific claim that white superiority has a genetic or evolutionary basis. Forward similarly characterises HBD as “the pseudoscientific racism of the Alt-Right”. HBD writings, like Quillette itself, are highly popular among white supremacist groups.

“In layman’s terms Quillette provides a forum for the idea that black people are just stupider than white people, evolution made them that way, and to reject this idea is to be against Darwin,” writes Professor John Jackson, a historian of race at Michigan State University. The magazine specialises in laundering the fraudulent mythology that mainstream scientists are afraid to ask questions about race in their scientific work. 

In reality, though, Jackson noted: “Scientific discussions of race are thick on the ground, contrary to what Quillette would have you believe. Even on hot-button issues like race and IQ, there is ample evidence of vigorous public and technical discussion. Every few years a book trumpeting race science appears.”

But there is a reason, Jackson explains, that Quillette wants its readers to believe that scientists are afraid to discuss race contrary to a wealth of evidence: because “much of this literature on race and science serves to debunk Quillette’s warmed-over 19th Century approaches to race. Indeed, the race/IQ argument had largely collapsed by the end of the 1920s.” 

Archived deleted web pages reveal that, before founding Quillette, Claire Lehmann was cited in a racist HBD blog, ‘HBDchick’, which put forward a definition of HBD as “the diversity found among and between human populations that has a biological basis” – the blog author noted: “i’ve stolen that very elegant definition from claire lehmann.” 

That particular webpage has been deleted, and whatever definitions of HBD articulated by Lehmann can no longer be found. When asked about the matter by former King’s College London philosopher of science Nathan Oseroff-Spicer, the blog author did not acknowledge deleting her reference to Lehmann’s HBD contribution. 

In 2016, Quillette published an article by eugenicist and incoming Boris Johnson aide, Andrew Sabisky, who had been hired by former No. 10 chief advisor Dominic Cummings. In his piece, Sabiski – who believes black people are genetically predisposed to have lower IQs – lamented “the white death”, which “sits on a throne of ethnic diversity” and is driven by globalisation and mass immigration.

Lehmann has also interacted favourably online with the Dutch far-right eugenicist Emil Kirkegaard.

Claire Lehmann did not respond to Byline Times‘ request for comment.

Numerous Quillette contributors also sit on Young’s FSU advisory council or board including Lee Jussim, who defended the famous Google memo attacking gender diversity; the HJS anti-Black Lives Matter contributor Konstantin Kisin; ex-HJS director Douglas Murray; classicist Jaspreet Singh Boparai; IQ researcher James Flynn; and CEO of Koch-funded campus ‘free speech’ lobby Pamela Paresky.

Quillette’s output on race is eagerly sought after by white supremacist groups, with its articles regularly republished by American Renaissance, the far-right platform funded by the neo-Nazi Pioneer Fund – whose scientists and research Quillette editor Toby Young staunchly defends.

Normalisation in the Mainstream

When Byline Times reached out to the FSU board members and advisors discussed in this article, not a single one was willing to condemn the racist pseudoscience that Young had promoted at the ISIR. In fact, only two responded at all.

Academic Matthew Goodwin did not answer questions as to whether he agreed with the idea of a biological basis for race and racial IQ differences, but did say: “I am delighted to be associated with the Free Speech Union.”

In 2018, Goodwin co-wrote a paper with fellow FSU advisor Eric Kaufman which asked: “Does ethnic diversity increase or reduce white threat perceptions?” It concluded that “rising diversity – all else being equal – increases anti-immigration sentiment and support for the populist radical right among native-born whites in the West”. The paper simply assumed that the former automatically causes the latter (while conveniently ignoring the data demonstrating correlation and causal links between racist political campaigning and spikes in racist white sentiment).

Quillette, where Young is an editor, spends much of its web space ‘repackaging discredited race science’.

FSU advisor Mark Littlewood, the director general of the Brexit lobby group the Institute for Economic Affairs (IEA), to his credit said that, while he is no expert, he does not at all believe in the idea of racial differences in IQ or a biological basis for race. But, while conceding that racism should be called out, he would not condemn Young’s promotion of scientific racism because he did not believe that his 2017 speech was particularly racist. He defended Young as “a thousand per cent not a racist” and explained that he would continue to support the FSU as it stood for “open intellectual inquiry”. 

Similarly, the Government Office for Equalities and the Equalities & Human Rights Commission (EHRC) defended FSU advisor David Goodhart’s recent EHRC appointment.

An EHRC spokesperson said: “Commissioners are appointed by the Government of the day. All our board members bring a wealth of experience and have a strong track record of working on equality and human rights and corporate issues.”

A spokesperson for the Government Equalities Office said: “The new EHRC commissioners were chosen as part of a fair and open competition, and each of them brings an expert knowledge base to the role. We are confident that they will help the EHRC carry out its important work of upholding and advancing equality and human rights at this vital time for the United Kingdom.”

It is difficult to understand how Goodhart is capable of advancing equality and human rights when he is incapable of taking a stand over the Nazi-linked scientific racism within the very organisation he advises.

This lack of condemnation for Toby Young’s defence of scientific racism on the part of FSU advisors is revealing. It suggests that the FSU is in danger of turning the admirable ideals of ‘free speech’ and ‘open intellectual inquiry’ into fig-leaves which can legitimise the mainstreaming of pseudoscientific ideas about race promulgated by white nationalist extremists. 

It allows us to see that this is happening, not because all FSU figures and advisors are ‘racist’, but simply because they are unwilling to actively combat racism in their midst. It illustrates the direct line of influence leading from Alt-right ideology to public figures at the centre of conservative thinking and policy-making in Britain. 

The FSU is a window into the normalisation of scientific racism in action. Whether Young and his FSU team realise it or not, they have become a conduit for far-right views around race which are overwhelmingly rejected by the scientific community today – but which are the legacy of the scientific racism that culminated in Nazism. The resurgence in the belief that race is a biological reality is inextricably linked to the increasing legitimisation of white racial self-interest. 

By insisting that such ideas, which once led to the Holocaust, should be seen as a perfectly reasonable part of every day public discourse, the proponents of scientific racism are allowed to turn the tables and claim victimhood: it is they, not minorities, who are persecuted as ‘racists’ for daring to engage in the robust free exchange of ideas, for simply ‘doing science’. How dare the spectre of ‘racism’ be used to shut down their free speech?

In this context, Young’s connections with groups incubated by the Pioneer Fund – the founders and early members of which had direct contacts with Nazi scientists working on Hitler’s ‘racial hygiene’ programme – goes some way to explaining why he is gravitating around pseudoscientific theories about the Coronavirus pandemic which would entail even worse mass deaths and economic destruction than we are already facing.

As public anxiety understandably accelerates due to the incompetence, negligence and malfeasance of governments, vulnerability to swallowing deeper toxic narratives about race and identity is a real and present danger. Which makes it horribly ironic that, in his FSU launch video, Young cynically referred to those who had died fending off the Nazis in the Second World War to drum up subscriptions to his big ‘free speech’ campaign.

“Many good men and women died fighting for our right to speak our minds and exchange ideas without being persecuted by the enforcers of intellectual conformity and moral dogma,” he pronounced. “This is our precious inheritance. And we owe it to them, as well as our children, to come to its defence.” 

Toby Young did not respond to Byline Times’ request for comment.

This article was corrected on 06/01/21 to correctly attribute the contribution of Inaya Folarin Iman to Black Lives Matter UK: An Anthology

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